Welcome back to Table Talk. Last week, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock unpacked writing drafts. We thought this was such a good question that we went to some other experts to see what they had to say.
So, without further adieu, we'd like to welcome to Table Talk New Pulp authors Derrick Ferguson, Sean Taylor and Van Allen Plexico.
Question: What are you trying to accomplish with the first draft of a story -- is it mainly about getting the story out as quickly as possible and then fixing it in the editing stages or do you try to get the technical aspects right from the start, figuring you can tweak the story in revision?
Derrick: The first draft of my stories are always just pure STORY. I don't worry about anything technical at all. My first drafts are always huge, sloppy messes as I allow myself the luxury of going off into tangents, putting in scenes that have nothing to do with the story but come to me as I'm writing, whatever. After all, nobody's going to see my first draft so why not have fun and entertain myself while I'm doing it?
It's in the subsequent two drafts that I do the technical stuff and whack away the fat that bloats the story.
Sean: For me the first draft is about exactly that, getting the story down, but I tend to redraft as I write sometimes, especially as the character take over and spin out new directions. Then I have to go back to fix old "maps" in the story, even if it's not done. When I'm finished with a final draft, it's really more of a third draft before I ever hit "the end." What I end up fixing after that is proofreading and replacing weak words and sections with stronger ones, but the plot doesn't change much at all after that draft is done.
Van: The summary/outline stage is where I try to get the story out as quickly as possible. My memory for details is so bad in the short term, I have to note everything down as soon as I think of it, or it'll probably be gone within a few hours or a day.
I always try to write as full and clean a first draft as possible. I can do this mostly because I've done such a detailed outline and summary in as much depth and detail as possible beforehand.
I would say that probably three out of every five times I write a first draft, it's pretty close to being ready for the editor to see it when it's done. The main changes I make in second drafts on those occasions are generally just word choice and adding a few extra details where needed. The other two times out of five, I find major issues that require serious work--sometimes up to and including tossing whole sections out and starting over.
Question: When outlining, for those who do, how much information do you put into the outline stage? I know some writers whose outlines are roughly the size of a small book itself and others, like myself, whose outlines don’t fill a full sheet of paper. What method works best for you guys?
Derrick: I consider my first draft, the messy sloppy draft I was just talking about AS my outline. I honestly can't tell what I have to work with unless I write the story down, then I can read it objectively and say; "Okay, so THIS is what I'm trying to say here" and work from there. I know writers who use notecards to utline and even draw up diagrams and such. And if that works for them, that's cool. Me, I usually start a story/novel with a buncha hastily scribbled notes and a general idea of the major scenes and points I have to hit. But how I get there is a map I'd rather discover as I make the journey.
Sean: My outline could almost be called a skeleton draft for lack of a better word. I put a lot of time into my plots and usually write out a full plot document that highlights key scenes and even includes dialog. My plot outline if more a treatment (like a movie) or pitch (like a comic or novel) than it is just an outline.
Van: I need to include everything that I can possibly think of in the outline/summary stage. I want the story to be as close to "complete" as possible in the outline and in my head before I begin to type the very first sentence. The single thing that is most likely to cause me to get the equivalent of "writers' block" on a project and just bog down is simply not being sure what happens next, or where the story is going, or how it ends. Once I know (and outline) those things to my own satisfaction, even if only fairly loosely, I'm good to go with the actual writing.
Doing it this way also makes it much less likely that I will miss opportunities to tie things together, set up things that pay off later, include all the cool little scenes and moments I can think of, and so on. I'm sure there are plenty of writers who can keep all this stuff safely in their brains and thus not need to do it this way; unfortunately, I've learned the hard way (by forgetting too much cool stuff!) that I don't have much of a choice. I have to jot it all down while it's still fresh!